NHL trade grades: Devils acquire Jacob Markstrom from Flames

NHL: Calgary Flames at Los Angeles Kings
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After months of speculation and near misses, the New Jersey Devils finally acquired goalie Jacob Markstrom from the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. The sides came close to a Markstrom deal prior to the 2024 NHL trade deadline but couldn’t get it done. Now they did, two weeks before the start of NHL free agency.

The deal sends the 34-year-old goalie to New Jersey with 30 percent of his $6 million AAV the next two seasons retained by Calgary. In return, Calgary gets New Jersey’s first-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft, which would return to New Jersey if the Devils finish with a top 10 pick. The Flames also acquired defenseman Kevin Bahl, who appeared in all 82 games this past season.

Related: 2024 NHL free agency: Potential landing spots for Jake Guentzel

Grading Devils-Flames trade involving Jacob Markstrom

Who won the trade? Let’s break it down.

New Jersey Devils: A

NHL: Calgary Flames at Los Angeles Kings
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Devils may not have fleeced the Flames, but they did finally address their No. 1 area of need and the main thing holding them back from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

The Devils finished this past season with the fifth-worst save percentage (.896) and the sixth-worst GAA (3.43) among all 32 NHL teams.

Vitek Vanecek, who entered the season as their No. 1, was traded to the San Jose Sharks prior to the deadline after posting an .890 save percentage in 32 games with New Jersey. His -11.2 goals saved above expected ranked 80th out of 83 goaltenders with at least five games played. In fact, Kaapo Kahnonen was the only Devils goalie to record a positive GSAA this season, and he played only six games with the team after being acquired from the Sharks.

They get a goalie in Markstrom who’s just two years removed from finishing second in the Vezina Trophy voting, leading the League with nine shutouts and posting a 2.22 GAA in the 2021-22 season. He struggled the next season when his save percentage dipped to .892, but rebounded in 2023-24, posting a 2.78 GAA and .905 save percentage.

Markstrom will be 35 next season, but he hasn’t shown many signs of deteriorating. His 6-foot-6, 207-pound frame takes up a lot of space in net and he’s got some excellent athleticism to boot.

At 30 percent retained, he’ll hit the cap at a $4.125 million AAV for the remaining two years of his contract, taking up just 4.7 percent of the Devils cap space. That’ll be a bargain if he’s anything close to the elite goalie we’ve seen him be.

When New Jersey set a franchise record with 52 wins and 112 points in 2022-23, and advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that reframed the expectations for this team. The utter letdown that was this past season, missing the playoffs and finishing second to last in the Metropolitan Division with 81 points, further raises the demand for a successful season in 2024-25.

Giving up Bahl and a first-rounder is nothing to sneeze at, particularly since Bahl was a bright spot on an otherwise shaky, inexperienced blue line. The Devils issues on defense still need to be addressed, but the return of Dougie Hamilton and a more experienced Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec should help them on that front. Above all else, what they needed was a goalie they could trust between the pipes.

They already have one of the most talented offensive units in the League, led by Jack Hughes, Nico HIschier and Jesper Bratt. Plus they have upward of $16 million in projected cap space. And now they have a true No. 1 goalie. It was a necessary move and one that puts them right back into the conversation as a Stanley Cup contender next season.

Calgary Flames: B

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at New Jersey Devils
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Now that this trade is official, the returning package for Calgary does seem slightly anti-climactic, particularly since the Flames are retaining $1.8 million annually for the next two years.

That said, Flames general manager Craig Conroy did get a very productive return for his starting goaltender.

Bahl was arguably the Devils best defenseman this season, leading the D-corps with 8.5 goals above replacement and logging over 550 minutes on the top pairing with John Marino. He ranked in the 90th percentile defensively, the best mark of any Devils defenseman.

The former 55th-overall pick will turn 24 next season, and while he’s due for an RFA deal after this upcoming season, he’d be a nice piece for the Flames to keep around on the back end, particularly after they traded Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov this past season.

A first-round pick sweetens the pot a little bit, too. Barring another horrific collapse, the Devils should not finish in the bottom 10 of the league so the pick should remain in Calgary’s hands. If New Jersey rebounds, it won’t be a terribly high draft pick, but the 2025 draft class is supposed to be deep with talent so it gives the Flames a chance to hit on another piece of the future.

Plus, this paves the way for Dustin Wolf to take over as the No. 1 goalie in Calgary. The 23-year-old has been waiting in the wings, twice winning top AHL goalie honors, and is ready to handle the Flames top spot in goal.

Ultimately, both teams got what they wanted out of this deal. New Jersey gets a quality starting goaltender that should allow them to compete for a Cup, and Calgary gets a return that should help set them up for long-term success down the road.

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